God knows there is more advice on the web and educational servers about great things to use in the classroom or things to stay away from and I am certainly not here to advise either way. I believe, as most experienced educators would agree, that the most important tool in the classroom is the teacher and his/her relationship with their students. Technology cannot fix a broken or ineffective teacher. A recent blog discussing Learning Management Systems does a good job of reviewing some of the choices available, and he is an advocate of Google app systems that have been recently released titled Google Apps for Education.
Most technology sections in county central offices are staffed with either a part time individual stuck with the job, to a moderate section with several staffers often with little training. The main function of the technology section is often to block progress rather than work with teachers to improve educational technology. Their first (and often the only one needed) wall of opposition is that of inappropriate use of technology. Always crying wolf and it rings a bell in the ears of the older less technologically informed county leaders, they often are successful at arguing against any new advancement/app/program leading teachers to use older technology or hiding their use of technology from supervisors. I visited a county recently where they were still debating letting teachers message each other! As I introduced several apps, websites, programs that they could use to enhance lessons, encourage more dialogue with students, they admitted they use some of them but they do not tell anyone because they “county administration would have their jobs.”
I’ve been on my soapbox recently about educating administrative leadership at the county/main office level, but technology is an area that ignoring the possibilities offered through the use of technology, often for absolutely no money ( Scribus, Gimp, Libreoffice ) is the opposite direction we need to be going in education. Perhaps it’s the perceived threat to technological advisors that they either refuse to allow new technology into schools, or the fear that their ignorance of new and developing educational programs will be revealed. I’m not sure but I do know one thing: Students already use the technology and are looking for educational leadership to help them make informed decisions.
Until we catch up in education with the technology used by our students and we can provide solid educational guidance on technological programs and equipment, we are failing our students.
I am a cave dweller. Or more accurately, I was a cave dweller. By definition, my definition, a cave dweller is a secondary and post secondary educator. Cave dwelling teachers do not collaborate with peers; do not share they crayons; do not appreciate attempts by others to force them to share (remember schools in the round? — Open Classrooms?) As a former administrator once admitted to me, the ideal teacher is never seen nor heard from and neither are their students. It’s all about discipline. When I first accepted a job in a high school, I was given keys to the classroom, a lesson plan guide paper, a blank attendance form (that I was never told what to do with) and my grade book (also with no instructions.) The only guidance I got was keep students in your classroom at all times and keep them quiet. I don’t believe you can find a seasoned administrator anywhere that would tell you their philosophy toward classroom teachers was anything else.
My first month of employment as a high school teacher was for the most part completely devoid of adult interaction. My wife used to comment at times that she spent so muct time with the kids, she craved adult conversation! I felt her pain — talking to class after class of whining adolescents made my brain start to congeal. It was not until the “system” woke up and discovered I had not submitted my attendance reports! And of course the bottom line in anything is money — and attendance = money. So finally I discovered the “main office” and a raspy voiced school secretary who took me under her wing because her dead husband and been retired military as well, and she showed me the ropes. All the little secrets I needed to know to survive.
My first faculty meeting was where all the cave dwellers came out into the dim light of the musty library for a group beating. Today’s beating was about how many copies we had run off that we should not have … I had been going to K-Mart making my own copies and did not know we had a copier! I was surprised at the number of cave dwellers there were! Some seemed to know each other and after a few meetings I was to the point where a few would make eye contact and even mutter a hello.
The point to all this is to begin to address classroom change, any type of change, you’ve got to understand the history and the social dynamics of secondary school teachers and staff. Unlike elementary teachers where they all sit together, share the same spoons, swap lunches, meet together and work together all the time, cave dwellers do not because they are responsible for maintaining discipline over the largest pre-inmate population in the country: America’s Teenagers. Untouched for the most part by the legal system that does not recognize them as adults, abandoned to the school system by their parents who are afraid to interact with them, and shunned by adult society, high school teachers take them, lock the door, and with whatever discipline tactic possible control the herd for anywhere from 50 minutes to 90 minutes at a time. And by the way, now teach them something. That takes talent. Some are very good at what they do — others are not. Plain and simple. Those who are not good as educators are probably good at discipline and able to control the class thereby making them as successful in the eyes of the administration as the best math teacher. Those days are over. Not because administrators finally woke up to the need for students to achieve higher scores, but because our economic engine in this country started to sputter and we realized that part of the problem is our failure educationally to prepare students for the workplace. Bottom line once again is money. So how do we fix this beast? More on this tomorrow.